Terra Sigillata

I wanted to contribute to today’s discussion of anti-vaccinationist, pseudoscience-pawning Jenny McCarthy being given not only an appearance on Oprah but, as reported by Orac, a deal with Oprah’s production company for her own show.

The public attention that Jenny McCarthy’s rants have gotten were bad enough. But, now, to have the soapbox of one of the most influential names in society?

I had to go outside the science blogging community with this. So, I wrote to the Philadelphia attorney who writes the award-winning blog, Field Negro.

Good evening, Counselor,

I know that your view of Oprah has modulated over the years but I’m hoping to get your take on this. I believe you thought her squarely in the house but you recently said (April 19) in your post explaining to yuppie black friends the Malcolm X field negro/house negro speech: “Note, since this post I have changed my opinion [since three years ago] about Oprah. I think girlfriend is on the patio now and has at least one leg in the fields.”

Well, you may want to reassess after today.

Today, many in the network at ScienceBlogs have blogposts on the threat to human health by Oprah parading anti-vaccination, pseudoscience wackaloon, Jenny McCarthy. ScienceBlogs.com’s frontpage will have links but you are a very busy man.

This one post by my physician colleague will give you all you need to know:
http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/05/the_best_snark_at_oprah_winfrey.php

To give McCarthy the bully pulpit that is Oprah’s show is to sentence thousands of children to death from childhood diseases for which we have low-cost protection in vaccines. Moreover, by encouraging parents not to vaccinate their children, other children may be put at risk – a practice I consider to be a form of biological terrorism.

I’m not being overly dramatic, Counselor. As a scientist of a certain age, I have relatives that were afflicted with polio and ancestors that died of measles and smallpox. Today, these diseases are preventable. However, the hysteria created by Jenny McCarthy now being given the high-profile imprimatur of Oprah cannot do anything but cause vaccines to be withheld from children and deadly diseases to return and flourish.

Given your own platform, I humbly request that you publicize this public health travesty to HFNs, Afrospear, and other readers to protest Oprah’s complicity in this unconscionable anti-vaccination movement. This is not just a science issue, it is a societal issue – one that will irreversibly affect the futures of large numbers of children with debilitating and fatal diseases that are easily prevented.

Respectfully submitted,
Abel Pharmboy
Terra Sigillata

http://scienceblogs.com/terrasig

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UPDATE (6 May 1:15 pm EDT) : This post has been Twittered this morning by Suzanne Somers.

Also, Arthur Allen just put up a great article in Slate, “Say It Ain’t So, O,” that closes with the following:

What’s a little sad about this episode is the fact that once upon a time, big stars like Humphrey Bogart, Louis Armstrong, and Elvis Presley stood up for vaccination campaigns to protect the lives of children. (Actress Amanda Peet recently stepped up to counter McCarthy’s message, saying that people should get their advice on autism and vaccines from doctors, not actresses. But Peet seems to lack McCarthy’s entrepreneurial verve and hasn’t drawn the same level of attention.)

In those days, parents and children clamored for vaccination. Especially children in places like the South Side of Chicago or rural Mississippi (where Oprah was born in 1954), who suffered higher rates of polio in the late 1950s because their parents couldn’t afford the new vaccine.

Over the past year, new outbreaks of measles, whooping cough, and other vaccine-preventable diseases have occurred in communities with parents who choose not to vaccinate their kids.

Oprah, think of the children.

Comments

  1. #1 Kerri
    May 6, 2009

    You are absolutely right. No one who has their very own television show that has millions (billions?) of viewers should EVER shed light on a controversial subject that could hurt someone- let alone allow someone to assess some facts on their own and make their own decisions!

    The fact is that Oprah can’t hurt anyone by her illumination of ANY controversial subject. If people go out and (god forbid) do their own research on a medical subject and don’t just take a doctor’s advice based on blind faith, then we might all be a little better for it.

    Kerri Knox, RN
    http://www.easy-immune-health.com

  2. #2 humorix
    May 6, 2009

    Oprah = HuffPost.

  3. #3 T. Bruce McNeely
    May 6, 2009

    Spreading falsehoods is part of that “illumination” process, Kerri?

  4. #4 Rev Matt
    May 6, 2009

    @Kerri: The problem is that McCarthy et al are NOT encouraging people to go out and do their own research. They are saying “The doctors and scientists are all liars don’t believe anything they say, go buy MY book or one by someone I agree with and indoctrinate yourself with our ideology”. This is not helping anyone but them.

    But then I see you’re just like them. The doctors and big pharma are evil villains out to take the money from these uninformed people, whereas you are a benevolent caregiver who wants to take their money. Totally different.

  5. #5 bobh
    May 6, 2009

    So what is a Functional Medicine Practitioner (FMP)? Never having heard of this before I had to google a bit. It turns out you to could be an FMP too, just take the online course at Functional Medicine University.com (not .edu)

  6. #6 Abel Pharmboy
    May 6, 2009

    Kerry, the point is that this is a disservice to public health. There is no drug or vaccine that is 100% safe and I will be the first one to say that. However, we have decided as a society that we are willing to risk, say, 200 or even 2000 adverse events for a therapy that can save the lives of millions of children.

    Automobile accidents kill more people each year than died in the entire Vietnam War. yet we do not outlaw automobiles or go on Oprah and say that automobiles are useless and a conspiracy by automakers to kill people or give kids autism. Instead, we recognize the societal benefits of automobiles and do all we can to make them safer. Here, the benefits outweigh the risks.

    I do not intend to be insensitive to anyone whose family has been adversely affected by true, documented reactions to vaccines or vaccine byproducts. However, there is no controversy, in science at least, that these adverse events include autism; in fact, we are now learning via studies with twins that there is a strong genetic contribution to spectrum disorders. Moreover, McCarthy’s message completely ignores the reality that vaccines save 100,000-fold more lives than adverse events.

    Oprah viewers will not get this information from Jenny McCarthy and the vast majority will not look any further than the program or, at best, McCarthy’s books and ill-informed viewpoints not based in science and medicine.

  7. #7 Joe
    May 6, 2009

    @ Bobh #5,

    “Functional Medicine – New Kid on the Block” http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=271

    Among other things, it embraces ““Personalized medicine” … a code for leeway for departure from proved methods …” and ““underlying causes” imply[ing] … that a special kind of medicine is required – which the FM physician happens to have.”

  8. #8 Kenneth Sherry RN
    May 8, 2009

    Keri,

    I can’t believe that a nurse would post such a narrow minded statement.

    I am not going to debate the science behind vaccines because that has been done in many other places by people much more well read than I.

    What I will say is this, people don’t want to do research on their own. They want to be told what is good for them and what is not. Whether or not the person is an expert has no bearing on this. Normally I would say it is the person’s own fault and they get what they deserve for listening to an air-headed model for medical advice. However, this time, it is not them being put at risk, it is their kids and worse off, other, more responsible people’s kids.

    I will also refer to the previous poster about the fact that Jenny will NOT be presenting a balanced informed debate of a controversial issue…just her one side of the story with the Oprah seal of approval.

    Kenneth Sherry RN

  9. #9 Kenneth Sherry RN
    May 8, 2009

    Sorry, I did not follow your link. I apologize for thinking that you were naive. You are obviously not, You are much worse. To be selling the snake oil that others do and try and use your nursing license to do it is reprehensible.

    I mean really, a doctor’s office can’t do a CMP…Really?

  10. #10 Dave
    May 8, 2009

    Abel — actually, the number of annual automobile fatalities in the US is somewhere around 41,000, versus the 57,000-some Americans who died in the Vietnam War.

    Which has nothing to do with the validity of your highly-justified broadside against Oprah. I just don’t want the anti-vaxers to be able to jump all over you and discount what you say because of such trivia.

  11. #11 Ed Darrell
    May 8, 2009

    Over at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub I occasionally get a nice hoax to debunk — the story that Millard Fillmore put the first bathtub in the White House was a hoax, you know.

    And so, when I first saw the claims about Gardasil being deadly, I tracked it down. Turned out the anti-Gardasil people had listed every death recorded in the trials as a death caused by Gardasil — but that wasn’t the case. In fact the data from CDC and Merck were freely available. Of the nearly two dozen deaths, 7 were by automobile accident, and those were split nearly evenly between the Gardasil recipients and those who got placebos. In other words, the Gardasil critics were claiming Gardasil had caused deaths to people who had never had Gardasil, and who died in completely unrelated ways where the proximate cause of death was quite clearly NOT Gardasil.

    Recently I noticed another slam at Gardasil, and checked it out. The claim from an anti-science guy was that Gardasil has killed 32 women since the vaccine was approved for public use. CDC’s figures show 32 deaths among people who got Gardasil (out of 23 million), but says none of those deaths can be connected to Gardasil. Damn. 23 million people and only 32 died? Sounds like an elixir of life, doesn’t it?

    But the anti-science types persist in saying Gardasil’s a threat.

    Counting automobile deaths as due to a vaccine, even a vaccine that the dead never got? Saying deaths are due to a vaccine, when the doctors who did the treatments say they don’t think so? How much hoaxing does it take from the anti-vaccine types before someone gets skeptical about their claims?

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